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The Roman Empire had been divided by the Emperor Theodosius I into an Eastern and Western
states. The two parts of the Roman Word were very different with the east, mainly Greek speaking, wealthier and urban, while the west, which was mainly Latin speaking and increasingly impoverished. The Western Empire was much weaker than the East and after the collapse of the Rhine frontier in 410 AD it was slowly occupied by various Germanic tribes who created states in the former Imperial provinces. By 500 AD, Italy was ruled by the Ostrogoths, North Africa was ruled by the Vandals and Spain was in the possession of the Visigoths. The Eastern Empire had been able to avoid the fate of the West because of its inherent strengths and some strong leaders such as the Emperor Zeno. By the start of the 6th century AD the eastern part of the Roman Empire was a unified state that was actually growing stronger and its borders were secure <ref> Baker, George Philip. Justinian: The Last Roman Emperor (London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), p 119</ref>.
[[File: Justinian 2.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Belisarius from a mosaic]]
==The reign of Justinian and his wars of conquests==
Justinian was born in Illyria and was a native Latin speaker. His uncle Justin had become commander of the Imperial bodyguard and had been crowned Emperor in 518 AD. Justinian became a trusted advisor to his childless uncle whom he succeeded in 527 AD. He married a former courtesan Theodora, and this was very controversial and made Justinian unpopular in some circles <ref>Procopius, The Secret History, translated by Anthony Kaldellis (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2010), p 15. </ref> He was a capable administrator and he ordered the codification of the law code which was very progressive for the time. Justinian was also a great builder and his greatest achievement was the magnificent Hagia Sophia. The Emperor was a committed Christian and he closed the ‘pagan’ academy founded by Plato during his reign. However, Justinian’s years in power was mainly marked by war. Soon after his coronation, the Sassanian Empire invaded the eastern provinces. It was during this war that the great general Belisarius came to prominence. In 532 AD a peace was reached with the Persians and this allowed Justinian to turn his attentions to the western Mediterranean. His suppression of the Nike Riots made him all powerful in Byzantium <ref> George, p 45</ref>. Justinian created a large army and navy and placed it under the command of Belisarius. He ordered him to attack the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, whose capital was the ancient city of Carthage (modern Tunisia). This was very audacious as a previous East Roman invasion was a disastrous failure. However, Belisarius was a brilliant strategist and he completely surprised the Vandals. In two battles in 533 and 534 AD he defeated the Vandal king and conquered his kingdom and it became a province of Byzantium, but it was not pacified for many years<ref> Procopius, The Wars, III </ref>. This was a remarkable achievement, but it did not satisfy Justinian and he had greater ambitions. He wanted to reconquer Rome and Italy which had been the birthplace of the Roman Empire. In 535 he ordered Belisarius to Sicily which he conquered easily and the General then launched a lightning strike against Ostrogothic Italy. In five years, Belisarius, with a relatively small army was able to capture the entire kingdom, founded by Theodoric the Great. In 540 AD it seemed that Italy had been reconquered, but the situation in the eastern frontier deteriorated, when the Sassanians once more attacked, despite a peace treaty, the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire. Belisarius was recalled, and he was forced to fight a defensive war against the Persian. The Byzantine army suffered several defeats and it was only a major outbreak of plague that ended this war. The Christian Emperor became seriously ill when he contracted the plague, which killed his beloved Empress <ref>Evans, James Allan. The Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine Empire (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), p 119 </ref>. Because Justinian had been focused on the Persian threat and his sickness he neglected Italy, and this led to a revival of the Goths under an able leader by the name of Totilla. The Ostrogoths managed to recapture nearly all of Italy and not even the presence of Belisarius could contain their advance. However, Justinian had an iron will and he ordered an official by the name of Narses to re-conquer Italy. He was given command of a large army and defeated the Ostrogoths in two battles in 543 AD and he re-conquered the entirety of Italy by 545 A.D <ref> Procopius, The Wars, VII-VII </ref>. Justinian skilfully exploited a civil war in the Visigoth kingdom in Iberia. A small Byzantine force was able to secure much of south-west Spain. Justinian as he grew older became increasingly religious and almost withdrew from public life. He made the husband of the niece of his beloved Theodora his heir and he became Justin II <ref> Baker, p 118</ref>. The most powerful Emperor in over 150 years died in 565 AD and he was deeply mourned by his subjects.